Is It Really Safe To Microwave Plastic Wrap?

Maybe your leftovers are covered with plastic wrap, and you're wanting to pop them in the microwave. But wait — is this even a good idea? Is it actually safe to microwave food that's covered with plastic wrap? Let's take a look at what potential issues there could be, even if you're just hoping to keep microwave food splatter to a minimum.

All plastic is not created equal, says Harvard Health Publishing. There are different materials that are created from both organic and inorganic compounds, and often, manufacturers add substances (called plasticizers) to help determine its shape and how it works. For example, bisphenol-A (BPA) is added to help create clear, hard plastic, while phthalates are added to help make plastic soft and flexible.

Both of these plasticizers are thought to be endocrine disruptions, which are bad for living creatures, like humans. They can produce adverse developmental, immune, reproductive, and neurological effects by mimicking natural hormones or blocking the way natural hormones work (via National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences). BPA, in particular, is of significant concern, as there could be effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate glands in children at current human BPA exposure levels. 

In even worse news, these chemicals can find their way into food that's been heated up in a microwave with plastic wrap. The good news, though, is that most modern plastic wrap does not contain these chemicals. 

The key, though, is that plastic wrap has to be touching your food to leach chemicals into it, and even with BPA- and phthalate-free plastic wrap, the USDA still recommends that you make sure it does not touch your food while microwaving, as Harvard cautions that the plastic could melt onto it.

Instead, you should place plastic wrap loosely on top of a bowl, where you can ensure it won't touch your food while still protecting the inside of your microwave from chili splatters. Better yet, just toss the wrap altogether and try something different. Paper towels are a great option, or you could use a domed container that fits over your dish instead. Or, just don't cover at all, and have more cleaning to do later. Again, most plastic wrap doesn't contain these harmful chemicals, but it's never a bad idea to err on the side of caution.